hard rock

REVIEW: QUIET RIOT – Live at the US Festival (2012 CD/DVD)

QUIET RIOT – Live at the US Festival (2012 Shout! CD/DVD set)

This was a long awaited release, since the US Festival was way back in 1983!  The Holy Grail would be an official Van Halen release of their legendary performance, but I digress.  There aren’t a lot of really great live Quiet Riot albums out there, with one called Extended Versions being the best package.  Live at the US Festival is brief at just seven songs (plus a 4:38 guitar solo that also includes a sneak preview of a song called “Scream and Shout”).  It does capture Quiet Riot at their peak, at a critical gig, and includes a DVD of the whole thing for the complete package.  (Come on, Van Halen…)

Let’s have a look at the DVD first.  The crowd is vast, the costumes ridiculous, but there’s some kind of fire in the air.  The atmosphere is electric and the band are absolutely great visually, particularly Rudy Sarzo.   DuBrow is the consummate glam frontman, and an underrated one at that. Have a giggle at the old style giant screens displaying the band logo.

The CD itself sounds good, no complaints there, and the recording sounds untampered (evidenced by a messy Carlos Cavazo guitar solo in “Cum On Feel the Noize”).  Sarzo’s bass is mixed nice and audibly.  It would have been better if more of a booklet was included, but it’s just a simple fold-out with no liner notes.  This set is sparse and just over 40 minutes long.  A lot of that time is taken up by talking.  You get the big hits though, and the non-album track “Danger Zone”.

Live at the US Festival is a pretty easy Quiet Riot purchase to justify because of the included DVD.

3.5/5 stars

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REVIEW: Make A Difference Foundation – Stairway to Heaven/Highway to Hell (1989)

Make A Difference Foundation – Stairway to Heaven/Highway to Hell (1989 Polygram)

In 1989, I proudly sported my Moscow Music Peace Festival T-shirt in the highschool halls.  It was cool to see the rock bands on the forefront of heavy metal bringing music to the Soviet Union.  Scorpions, Bon Jovi, Motley Crue, Cinderella, Ozzy Osbourne and Skid Row joined Russian metal band Gorky Park in the name of peace and being drug free.

Drug free?  Ozzy?  It’s true that this was a little strange, but Motley were at least clean for the first time in their lives.  The Scorpions had played behind the Iron Curtain before, and Sabbath were huge in Russia.  Meanwhile Bon Jovi were one of the few bands to legally release an album in the USSR, and in return they brought Gorky Park to the US.  I was lucky enough to have a girlfriend who recorded the televised part of the concert off MTV and sent me a copy.  It was a pretty mindblowing video.  Those Russians were going absolutely nuts, seeing their idols on stage.

Later on, the bands each contributed a song to a compilation album called Stairway to Heaven/Highway to Hell, each covering an artist who had been touched by substance abuse.  The CD was produced by the biggest name at the time, Bruce Fairbairn himself.  The proceeds went to an anti-drug charity, for all the good “just saying no” does.  The album itself was a pretty great compilation of mostly exclusive music.  Though almost all of it is now available elsewhere, that wasn’t the case in 1989, making this a tempting buy.

Gorky Park, the up and comers, started off with “My Generation”.  Some find it too putrid to stomach.  It’s virtually an original song with only the lyrics recognizable.  The riffs and melodies seem otherwise new.  So give Gorky Park some credit for at least not attempting a carbon copy, but then you gotta take off some points for turning “My Generation” into a Bon Motley song.  Unfortunately for Gorky Park, their momentum halted when singer Nikolai Noskov quit in 1990.

Skid Row surprised the hell out of everyone with the Pistols’ “Holidays in the Sun”.  It was the first indication that Skid Row had punk roots.  “Holidays” was very much a look ahead to where they would go on Slave to the Grind.  They were on the punk bandwagon a full two years before Motley decided to cover the Sex Pistols.  It’s always strange to hear flashy metal guitar solos on a Pistols song, but it’s sheer joy to hear Sebastian spitting and screaming up a storm.

Scorpions had a new compilation out called Best of Rockers ‘n’ Ballads.  Another Who song, “I Can’t Explain” was taken from it to be used on this CD.  It is by far the better of the Who covers, as Scorpions really made it their own.  Next, Ozzy’s track is quite interesting.  It’s the only studio recording of the lineup including Zakk Wylde, Randy Castillo, and Geezer Butler.  Geezer quit the band shortly after, and this incredible lineup never recorded anything else.  I consider it the strongest band that Ozzy had after Randy Rhoads.  The quartet did a live sounding cover of “Purple Haze”, unfortunately not the greatest version.  It is at least a showcase for Zakk Wylde to go nuts on the wah-wah pedal.

I will argue that the best track on this album came from the band that was riding a brand new high:  Motley Crue.  Clean and mean, they were incredibly strong in 1989.  They the balls to choose an obscure Tommy Bolin (Deep Purple) solo tune:  “Teaser”.  Motley put on that Dr. Feelgood groove, and Mick Mars laid waste to the land with his slidey guitar goodness.  It’s no surprise that “Teaser” has reappeared on Motley compilations several times since.  It has balls as big as a bus!

Another strong contender is Bon Jovi’s take on Thin Lizzy.  “The Boys are Back in Town” fits seamlessly with that small town New Jersey vibe that Bon Jovi used to have.  Lynott must have had some influence on a young Jon Bon, because all his old tunes are about the boys – back in town!  Dino’s bar and grill could be in Sayreville NJ.  Of course, Bon Jovi are a competent enough band to be able to cover Thin Lizzy and do it well.

Another surprise:  Cinderella doing Janis Joplin.  Singer Tom Keifer suited Joplin, though you don’t immediately associate the two!  “Move Over” takes advantage of that Keifer shriek that isn’t too far removed from Janis.  From there on though, it’s filler.  Jason Bonham, Tico Torres and Mickey Curry do a pretty boring “Moby Dick”.  It’s funny how John Bonham sounds bigger on the original, than three drummers on this remake.  Then it’s a bunch of live jams from the Moscow concert:  “Hound Dog”, “Long Tall Sally”, “Blue Suede Shoes” and “Rock and Roll” (Bonham on drums again for the latter).  Vince Neil is hopelessly out-screamed by Sebastian Bach on the Zep tune.  All the singers participated, but Sebastian Bach and Tom Keifer blew ’em all away.

This disc has been out of print a while, but isn’t too hard to find.  80s rockers need to have it for its historical value.

3/5 stars

REVIEW: Foo Fighters – The Colour and the Shape (remastered)

FOO FIGHTERS – The Colour and the Shape (Originally 1997, 2007 Sony Legacy edition)

Sometimes, an album is just perfect.  Nothing needs to be added or taken away.  It is simply right the first time.

The Foo Fighters got it right the first time when they released The Colour and the Shape in 1997  At 47 minutes, it was already a bit longer than the average album, but what a towering 47 minutes they are!  There is a reason that The Colour and the Shape is consistently the album that all others are compared to.  It’s that one magical, flawless album that can never be equalled no matter what Dave Grohl & Co. come up with next.

The Colour and the Shape was a product of its time and all the things Grohl was going through.  The drummer (William Goldsmith) was fired mid-way and Dave re-recorded all the drums himself, bar two ballads.  Maybe that’s one reason that the album is so special.  When Dave plays the drums, the energy level goes through the roof and comes out the speakers.  That’s what happens on “Monkey Wrench”, “My Hero”, “Everlong”, “New Way Home” and “Hey, Johnny Park!”, five of the most exciting tracks.  The energy simply cannot contained.  The Law of Conservation of Energy dictates that it all comes out of your body as you rock to this album!

Of one were to give a negative critique to any of this album, it might be Grohl’s screaming on “My Poor Brain” and “Enough Space” among others.  It is true:  Grohl chips the paint with his voice from time to time.  This works though, as an appropriate contrast to the soft melodies of “Walking After You” and “February Stars”.  The album is well rounded.  It joyfully careens from those heavy blasts, to quiet acoustic bits of pop glory.

The Colour and the Shape has the songs, it has the riffs, and mindblowing drums.  It has the vibe, and it reeks of passion.  Whatever Grohl was going through at this time, it ended up in the music.  The production by Gil Norton is a bright contrast to the lo-fi of the debut album Foo Fighters.  It simply cannot be improved upon.  Even the lyrics go full circle.  Listen to “Doll” and “New Way Home” and see if you catch it.

When Sony Legacy added seven bonus tracks, it beefed the album up to well over an hour.  If you listen to the CD as a whole, it completely changes the listening experience, and not in a good way.  It’s Coke vs. New Coke.  Adding essentially a third side of B-sides doesn’t make it better.  It would be advised to collect the original Foo Fighters singles from which these tracks were taken.  And if you do, you’ll get more songs that weren’t included on the Sony Legacy, such as live and acoustic versions.  Of the bonus tracks, the Gary Numan cover “Down in the Park” is particularly exceptional.  The new liner notes by bassist Nate Mendel are quite cool.

The Colour and the Shape is one of the best albums of 1997, if not the very best of that year.  It’s tough to beat and adding bonus tracks didn’t do the trick.  Therefore, The Colour and the Shape gets two ratings:

Original 1997 CD:  5/5 stars

Sony Legacy 2007 CD:  4/5 stars

 

BOOK REVIEW: KISS Still On Fire – Dave Thomas & Anders Holm (1988)

The KISS RE-REVIEW SERIES Part 37: bonus book review

 Still On Fire – Dave Thomas & Anders Holm (1988 Melody Line)

In the 1980s, there were generally no Kiss books on the market.  If you found one, you bought it.  The only widely known Kiss book back then was 1978’s paperback Kiss by Robert Duncan.  I was lucky to find Kiss Still On Fire in Stratford Ontario on December 27, 1990 in a great little store called The Book Vault.  Still On Fire is very very unofficial, but it was unequalled in its time:  130 magazine sized pages, mostly in full colour, loaded with pictures, facts and a few errors.

Peppered with old interviews and article snippets, Still On Fire takes a balanced look at the band and isn’t afraid to get critical when it’s warranted.  It also attempts to take a crack at who played what on some of those tracks where it wasn’t quite clear.  For example, Ace Frehley is pictured on the front cover of Killers, but didn’t play on any of the new songs.  Still On Fire quotes a Paul Stanley interview.  Was it Bob Kulick playing lead on these tracks?  “Bob did come out, yes, but he didn’t play.  When I couldn’t handle things — and I don’t consider myself the ultimate lead player — another friend of ours came in and gave us a little help.”  The book states this friend was Robbin Crosby of Ratt, a claim that is not backed up in other sources.  Did Crosby play on Killers?  Who knows, but according to this book, he did.  Other books such as Julian Gill’s Kiss Album Focus claim Bob Kulick did play some on Killers.  In other words, if you read something interesting in this book that contradicts what you’ve read elsewhere, take it with a grain of salt.

There’s a bit of content here about what Gene was doing in the 1980s outside of Kiss:  producing bands such as Black & Blue and EZO.  Gene was responsible for EZO’s fantastic single “Flashback Heart Attack”, co-written by James Christian of Simmons Record act House of Lords.  Gene was also working on movies but was having trouble finding the time.  Apparently Sergio Leone really wanted Gene Simmons for Once Upon a Time in America in the role of Max, ultimately played by James Woods.  Can you imagine?

Besides the ample photos, the most impressive feature of Still On Fire is the discography.  Though incomplete, Still On Fire attempts to document myriad Kiss bootleg recordings, including cover art.  There are also interesting promo and foreign releases, such as the Special Kiss Tour Album and Kiss – The Singles.  Side projects and solo albums are included, from major (Frehley’s Comet) to obscure (Bruce Kulick’s band The Good Rats).  A variety of singles, picture discs and videos are on display, fully illustrated.  All of this was completely new to me then.  Not to mention the titles of unreleased songs!  What the heck were “Don’t Run” and “The Unknown Force”?  (The Elder demos.)  This is also where you’ll find the most typos and spelling errors.  (I really want to hear this song called “Pick It Up”.)

Still On Fire isn’t definitive nor is it definitely 100% accurate, but it should still prove to be a valuable resource for your Kiss library.

3.5/5 stars

 

REVIEW: Rush – Roll the Bones (1991, remastered 200 gram vinyl)

RUSH – Roll the Bones (1991 Anthem, 2015 remaster on 200 gram vinyl)

There was a period in the 1980s when, in some circles, Rush had lost the plot.  Writers such as Martin Popoff have been very critical of this era, with its keyboards and shorter songs.  In 1989, Rush began to turn the ship around with Presto.  It and 1991’s Roll the Bones really ushered in the next phase of Rush, combining new and old.  Fans (and Alex Lifeson) were happy that keyboards were toned down, at least in comparison to Hold Your Fire (1986).

The theme of the album is “take a chance”.  Roll the Bones starts with a punch called “Dreamline”.  Geddy Lee’s pulse pushes this into overdrive.  The chorus goes into hyperspace.  It’s hard to think of too many other Rush songs that are so concisely hot.  “Dreamline” has it all:  hooks, licks, force and grace.

Neil Peart is king on “Bravado”*, a sudden change of direction.  His drumming, always hard, is unusually sharp.  Yet it’s a slow song that might be termed a “ballad”.  Whatever — it’s Rush.  It’s incredible.  It’s powerful in an understated, triumphant fashion.  If you know somebody who says they hate Rush, play this.

The title track and first single is a Rush classic, but that rap section sounds dated today.  That was always the danger of such an experiment, but fortunately the song is too strong for it to matter much.  That’s Geddy rapping incidentally, with his voice lowered and effects added.

Side one also has “Face Up”; fast but not particularly memorable.  But it also has “Where’s My Thing?”, a smashing instrumental featuring Geddy and Alex’s flying fingers.  It’s subtitled “Part IV, ‘Gangster of Boats’ Trilogy” as a joke on past pretentiously prog-rock titles they’ve employed.  Rush have always had a sense of humour, and also fun.  “Where’s My Thing” is a fun instrumental, kept short and ever so slightly funky.

The second side of Roll the Bones isn’t as consistent as the first.  “Ghost of a Chance” and “You Bet Your Life” are immediate standouts.  An appropriate spectre-like keyboard part enhances “Ghost of a Chance” and justifies the use of the instrument.  The other three songs (“The Big Wheel, “Neurotica” and “Heresy”) are fine for Rush deep cuts, but may or may not appeal to your specific tastes.

This 200 gram vinyl remaster is exquisite!  Keyboard parts previously unnoticed are now audible, as if brand new.  The drums have the punch missing on the old CD, and the bass hits the guts.  Great dynamics and depth.  If you are in the market for remastered Rush, these 200 gram vinyl reissues are pricey but a nice treat.

3.5/5 stars

*At 3:50 of the song, Peart performs a drum roll that I can only describe as pure ecstasy.  Chills up the spine.

RE-REVIEW: KISS – Smashes, Thrashes & Hits (1988)

The KISS RE-REVIEW SERIES Part 36: 

 – Smashes, Thrashes & Hits (1988 Mercury)

Though hard to believe, in 1988 Kiss needed the money.  According to CK Lendt in his book KISS and Sell, they were in trouble financially.  Some bad investments and too many expenses, plus the underperformance of Crazy Nights, had the band in a bind.  The traditional easy solution is to throw together a “greatest hits” set.

Gene announced this album to Canadian audiences on a trip to the Great White North promoting his record label, Simmons Records.  House of Lords were the band he primed to be big, and their debut album is held in high esteem by rock connoisseurs worldwide.  It seemed to fans that Simmons was transitioning from Hollywood to businessman.  Surely, it was hard to believe him when he claimed Kiss was still his priority.

Greatest hits albums need something new to sell them.  This was left to Paul Stanley, who produced two new songs co-written with Desmond Child (and Diane Warren on one).   It seems unlikely that Gene cared much at this point.  In the music video for one of the new songs, “(You Make Me) Rock Hard”, he can be clearly seen miming the wrong words.

Speaking of music videos, “Let’s Put the X in Sex” was something new for the band (and it wasn’t the lawsuit from the people who owned the building in the video).  Suddenly, Kiss were a three-piece backing band with a guitar-less frontman.  At least in the videos for Crazy Nights, Paul Stanley wore and danced with a guitar.  In “Let’s Put the X in Sex”, he is front and center, without instrument:  the frontman.  Gene’s just the bass player in these videos, looking completely lost.  Paul was doing all the work behind the scenes, therefore he was going to take the spotlight.  And why not?

Getting two new Kiss songs on a greatest hits was good in theory.  Even back then, we sensed they were more the “Paul Stanley Project” than Kiss.  For Kiss, they are too light and glossy.  “Let’s Put the X in Sex” has horns (or is it synth?) making it sound vaguely like an Aerosmith outtake from Permanent Vacation.  At least Steven Tyler injects a little cleverness into his innuendo.  Both Bruce Kulick and Eric Carr rise to the occasion with worthy work, but the tune is a dud.

Likewise with “(You Make Me) Rock Hard”, which passed for a rocker at the time.  Neither of the new tracks are as good as the four on Kiss Killers.  Paul must have just been out of gas.  He states these songs were the best he could do at the time without his partner in crime.  “Rock Hard” is just Kiss by numbers.

First two tracks aside, Smashes, Thrashes & Hits contains 13 of the greatest.  Most are remixed (ill-advisedly) to bring all the tracks to a standard sonic backdrop.  The remixes are from a variety of names in a number of studios:  Dave Wittman, David Thoener, Jay Messina for example.  Some played it a little more loose with the tracks, others didn’t meddle much.  “Love Gun” is an example of a remix that changes things up, but still works.  Ace’s solo is given more emphasis by mixing out the vocals.  It’s a cool alternate arrangement.  Excess echo is added on the drums…you can’t win ’em all.  Many of the remixes suffer from drum related issues.

Smashes, Thrashes & Hits takes a scattershot approach to running order.  It’s very telling that no tracks from Crazy Nights were included, except in the UK where “Crazy Crazy Nights” and “Reason to Live” were hits.  No tracks with an Ace Frehley writing credit were included, and only one from Peter Criss.  That’s another gripe that fans have with this album.

“Beth” is included, a throwback to one of Kiss’ biggest hits, which they tended to shun since Peter’s 1980 departure from Kiss.  It’s considered a slap in the face to Peter that Eric Carr was called in to re-record the lead vocal.  The backing track is identical.  Carr never felt comfortable in this role, but had never been featured on an album lead vocal before.  It was a hell of a dilemma for the drummer.  He’d been in the band for six years and six albums, and never got a lead vocal.  He did the best he could.  The re-recorded “Beth” didn’t replace the original, and it remains an oddity in the Kiss canon.

One afternoon in the summer of 1990, Bob and I were hanging out with these two girls at his trailer that we were going out with.  We were listening to songs, but Bob and I didn’t seem to get much say in what songs.  One of the girls said, “I have some Kiss!” and put on Beth.  As soon as she did, I had a feeling it wouldn’t be the original.  Simultaneously, Both and I both said, “Oh no, it’s Eric!”  The girls had no idea what we were talking about or why it was a big deal.

Smashes, Thrashes & Hits was the first compilation to reconcile the makeup and non-makeup eras of Kiss.  The majority are from the makeup years, as it should be, with only three from non-makeup albums.  You could argue for this song and that song, but the running order is jarring.  “Heaven’s On Fire” into “Dr. Love” is not even as bizarre as “Beth” into “Tears are Falling”.  The less familiar remixes don’t help the situation.  Incidentally, the only songs untouched by remixers’ hands are “Lick It Up”, “Heaven’s On Fire”, “Tears are Falling” and “I Was Made For Lovin’ You”.

There was no tour for Smashes, Thrashes and Hits.  Gene had his label stuff, including a new Canadian band called Gypsy Rose to think about.  (Remember “Poisoned By Love” on Simmons Records?)  Paul Stanley didn’t want to sit idle, and so did a 1989 solo tour.  Kiss family member Bob Kulick returned to his side on guitar.  Kiss keyboardist Gary Corbett was there with bassist Dennis St. James and ex-Black Sabbath drummer Eric Singer.  The setlist featured a number of old Kiss classics that hadn’t been played live in 10 years, such as “I Want You”.  Eric Carr was unhappy about the solo tour, worrying about what it meant.  Like most Kiss fans, he wondered if it was the beginning of the end.  He also worried that Paul didn’t ask him to be his solo drummer.  Paul said it was because two Kiss members wouldn’t be right for a solo tour.  Ominously, Eric Carr said about Singer:  “That’s the guy who’s going to replace me.”

Fans were confused and some were unhappy.  Like they had once before, Kiss were drifting further and further into pop music.  This time, it was without Ace Frehley to keep them anchored.  Paul Stanley now seemed to be a Bon Jovi-like dancing frontman.  These new songs were not easy to stomach, and the Eric Carr vocal felt all wrong.  Had Kiss lost all credibility?  Smashes, Thrashes and Hits wasn’t winning any back.

Today’s rating:

2/5 stars

Original mikeladano.com review:  2012/08/06

REVIEW: Quiet Riot – Road Rage (2017 Japanese version)

QUIET RIOT – Road Rage (2017 Frontiers Japanese version)

We’ve always been honest but truthful Quiet Riot fans here at LeBrain HQ.  We’ve been banging our heads for almost 35 years now, and they included some ups and some downs.  The death of Kevin DuBrow was heartbreaking.  Some of our Quiet Riot reviews haven’t been the most popular, but we have always maintained an open mind.  Frankie Banali’s resurrected Quiet Riot with no original members left a bad taste in the mouth, especially after management attempted to re-write the band’s history on WikipediaPages were edited to indicate that the Metal Health album was Quiet Riot’s debut, seemingly in order to qualify Banali as an original member.  Ugly and undignified; but music talks and bullshit walks.  Quiet Riot’s first post-DuBrow always was 2014’s 10, with Love/Hate singer Jizzy Pearl taking over as the band’s sixth lead singer.  It wasn’t that good and it’s conceivable that the band know it.  No physical edition was ever released, and you can’t even buy a download anymore.

So, it’s delightful to be able to say that the new 2017 Quiet Riot album called Road Rage is…not bad at all!  Actually quite good!

It’s even been rocky since 10.  Jizzy Pearl left amicably, to be replaced by ex-Steven Adler singer Seann Nichols.  They recorded a new album, even released one full song online…and then suddenly Nichols was out!  American Idol alumnus James Durbin was hired in short order, and re-wrote and re-recorded the entire album.

Skeptics, be silent.  Our fair and balanced take on Quiet Riot in the past should speak volumes for the review you are about to read.  It would be far easier to mock Quiet Riot for their choice of a TV show contestant as a frontman, but it would be grossly inaccurate.

Durbin’s youthful enthusiasm will either win you over, or leave you complaining that he’s “not enough like DuBrow” and it “doesn’t sound like Quiet Riot”.  Here’s the truth — that’s good.  We’ve endured one soundalike singer after another.  Durbin has a fresh spin, and there’s little question the guy is just pleased as hell to be fronting this band!  he gives it all on “Can’t Get Enough”, a new uptempo Quiet Riot party tune.  Co-writer Neil Citron must have written the riff with a classic Quiet Riot vibe in mind.

Then it’s down weird street a little bit with the Indian-flavoured intro to “Get Away”.  It takes a moment, but once you realize “Hey, this isn’t the same old Quiet Riot”, you will be able to realize that “Get Away” is a damn good song.  It’s actually quite melodic rock, but with a Zeppelin groove.  Then it’s the pro-weed “Roll This Joint”, which has a seriously decent Zep vibe too.  The lyrics are pretty cheesey (“I’m with Cheech and Chong and Willie and Marley!”) but you gotta cut Durbin some slack.  He’s young and it’ll connect with some of that crowd.

The thing is, you just can’t dislike Durbin.  He wins you over, especially on the lead single “Freak Flag”.  This is the most Quiet Riot sounding track of the disc, but with Durbin it’s no carbon copy.  “Freak Flag” kicks ass and you can imagine it working great live.  Same with “Wasted”.  That chorus (“Take a shot!”) grows fast.  Even the ballad “The Road” doesn’t suck.  Through the 11 tracks, it’s clear who the star on this album is.  The new frontman rose to the challenge.  In the back, Frankie Banali’s providing the Quiet Riot backbeat; the linkage between past and present.  Guitarist Alex Grossi also turns in a worthy performance, and Chuck Wright (bass) has a co-write on the slippy-slidey “Still Wild”.  Despite the circumstances in the making of the album, Quiet Riot sound more focused than they have in decades.

Frankie’s revival of Quiet Riot has been going seven years straight, through five singers before getting James Durbin on board.  Only the singer has changed; Grossi and Wright have stood by through thick and thin.  No matter what, Quiet Riot will continue.  Fans should be advise that the first album with Durbin has turned out great, and let’s hope this is a long-term lineup.  He’s got the necessary range to sing vintage DuBrow, but in his own voice.  And that voice is growing quite compelling.  Not every song is killer, but the majority of the album gets the job done.  Enough to justify putting your money down.

The Japanese version of Road Rage has an exclusive bonus track.  It is an acoustic version of “Make A Way”, one of the heavy album tracks.  This isn’t a crappy remix, but an entirely new recording of the song in acoustic arrangement.  It’s different enough that it actually seems like a new song.  Bonus track:  win!*  

As Durbin sings, “Take a shot!”  Give Road Rage a road test.  Just don’t “Knock ‘Em Down”, or you will have to “Get Away”.  The quality of this album in terms of sound and songs gives the new Quiet Riot a level of credibility they didn’t have before.  Easily their best album since 1993’s Terrified or even before.  Let your “Freak Flag” fly, James Durbin!

3.75/5 stars

*  Former singer Seann Nichols made a comment in an interview that implied the version of Road Rage with his vocals was released in Japan; this is unfortunately not the case.  If you have any Seann Nichols versions of the Road Rage songs, please contact us here.  We are dying to review them in contrast to the final album!

 

 

REVIEW: Vinnie Vincent Invasion – All Systems Go (1988)

The KISS RE-REVIEW SERIES Part 35Vinnie Vincent solo #2.

VINNIE VINCENT INVASION – All Systems Go (1988 Chysalis)

Ex- guitarist Vinnie Vincent could have made it big as a solo artist.  He had the talent, and the songwriting ability.  What he didn’t have was self control.  It’s too bad, because his second album was far more accessible than the first.  With a movie tie-in with the lucrative Nightmare on Elm St. movie series, the Invasion was primed and ready….

And then the band split.

According to singer Mark Slaughter (on an instalment of the Eddie Trunk show), Vinnie told Mark that was going to fire bassist Dana Strum.  “Where does your loyalty lie?” he asked the vocalist.  Mark told him if Dana was going, he’d rather go with Dana.  So that’s what happened. Mark and Dana formed the successful Slaughter, while drummer Bobby Rock joined another huge band called Nelson.

This all came as a bit of a shock to fans, who expected the Invasion’s second album All Systems Go to take off.  It spawned two singles/videos that were right in sync with popular rock at the time.  Vinnie toned down his guitar excesses from the first album, and Mark Slaughter was obviously the kind of frontman born to rock.  A damn shame.

All Systems Go wasn’t a skimpy album:  11 tracks plus two CD-only instrumentals.  Vinnie took sole writing credit on every track, including the drum solo.  For extra fun, the tracks are not listed in order on the back cover and the instrumentals are unlisted.  This is a throwback to the way records were sometimes released in the 60s and 70s.  The tracks (including the instrumentals) are listed in the correct order on the CD itself.  This kinda sucks when you are actually listening to it and want to know which song is playing.

This is the album that lived up to what Vinnie was capable of, although he stated a preference for the first “uncompromised” first album.  “I should never have changed singers,” he said without mentioning Mark by name.  Mark’s sassy vocalizin’ dominates the album, which might have pissed off Vinnie.  His charisma and talent is immediately obvious on the sleazy groove rocker “Ashes to Ashes”.  A tight song with a good riff and a great chorus is all you need.  Vinnie’s solo is no less impressive, but much more innovative and suiting to the song.  Guitar heroism in the making…almost.

“Dirty Rhythm” brings more sleaze: faster, more cowbell and more Sunset Strip.  The Invasion had more talent than the average glam rock band of the day, and so this is pretty exceptional stuff for the genre.  Where they really succeeded was with the radio friendly stuff.  The Freddy Krueger crossover ballad “Love Kills” should have been massive. We the benefit of hindsight, we can see that Mark Slaughter was born to be a star. He was absolutely the right singer for these songs.

Goofy title aside, “Naughty Naughty” is a decent return to sleazy glam, and “Burn” rocks similarly.  “Heavy Pettin'” is an even worse title, concealing another good glam rocker.  Perhaps lyrics weren’t Vinnie’s greatest talent, but there’s not much else wrong with it.  Guitar heroism returned on “The Star-Spangled Banner”, played by an orchestra of electric guitars!  It’s an apt intro for “Let Freedom Rock”.  It’s over the top fun, and the guitar solo would make Yngwie pee his leather pants.

The other single “That Time of Year” was just as good as “Love Kills”, if not better just because it’s not as dark. Its midtempo rock pseudo-ballad stylings were instantly likable.  It’s easy to imagine it as a hit, despite a glut of soundalike bands in 1988.  Vinnie’s solo verges of majestic.  It’s really hard to imagine was he didn’t like about this album.  It’s not a bad thing that the songs dominate over the solos; the solos are more impressive when they serve the song.

Had the band not split, and if they released a third single, it could have been “Ecstasy”.  Don’t forget, Vinnie wrote “Tears” which was a pop hit for John Waite, and even recorded by Peter Criss.  “Ecstasy” is its spiritual sequel.  “Deeper and Deeper” also has pop qualities, but is clearly a rocker.  The point is this:  don’t underestimate Vinnie Vincent.

Out of the blue, the LP/cassette version of the album ended on heavy shred metal.  “Breakout” kicks ass.  If fans felt at any point that the album was going soft, then “Breakout” would have redeemed it for them.  The only real issue is a problem on many of the songs on this album: the production.  It’s thin, and the backing vocals tend to be shrill.  “Breakout” could be rib-busting with more crunch.

On CD, there are two instrumentals to close.  “The Meltdown” is a messy cacophony of drums and electronics.  You’ll be thankful it’s over.  Stick around for Vinnie’s acoustic tune “‘Ya Know’ – I’m Pretty Shot”.  What a diverse and schooled player he is.  From classical fingerpicking to blues and traditionals, is there anything he couldn’t do with just six strings?  Years from now, this is what Vinnie should be remembered for.  This one acoustic instrumental should establish him as a genius on the same level as Randy Rhoads and Yngwie Malmsteen.

Potential was almost fully realized here.  If the sound was thicker and the disc was trimmed for length, All Systems Go would be fully classic.

3.5/5 stars

#600: The Vault

GETTING MORE TALE #600: The Vault

By now, surely you have heard that Gene Simmons is finally releasing his massive 150 song boxed set, The Vault (1966-2016).  Gene has been talking about this box for over a decade, under the previous working title Monster.  Entirely unreleased, these songs are a treasure trove of things that fans have wanted for years.  Gene’s Love Gun-era Van Halen demos?  Supposedly here.  Along with “Feels Like Heaven” and dozens of tracks we’ve wanted in official quality.  In other words, The Vault box set is as much a must-have as the original Kiss Box Set itself.  A full track list has yet to be released, but we can be assured that there will be music that we have long sought on Vault.

Gene likes to promote his big ticket items in terms of what they weigh, as if that’s a reflection of value.  Vault comes in a safe that weighs 38 pounds.  The box also includes:

  • 10 CDs, 150 unreleased songs
  • In Gene We Trust “gold” coin
  • The very first Gene Simmons figurine  without makeup (also without any articulation)
  • Deluxe book containing over 50,000 words and 160 pages of unseen photos from Gene’s personal collection
  • A “hand selected personal gift” (no exchanges)

All this for only $2000 USD.

“But Gene,” you might be thinking to yourself, “that’s not enough.  I want more!”

If you want more, you better be prepared to pay for it.

For $50,000, Gene will deliver your copy of Vault right to your home.  It’s called the “Vault Home Experience”, but only available in the United States:

  • You plus 25 friends get Gene in your own home for two hours
  • Pictures/videos/autographs
  • Intimate “Songs & Stories” session and Q&A
  • Signed “golden ticket”, exclusive T-shirt, USB stick (with song “Are You Ready”), and laminate pass
  • Each guest gets a laminate and T-shirt
  • Numbered The Vault (first 300 sold)

What’s that “Songs & Stories” session?  This is really “stories about songs”.  Gene won’t be singing live. The FAQ states that “if you have an acoustic guitar around, Gene may strum a few tunes for you and your guests.” “If” and “may”.

Don’t have $50,000?  That’s OK.  For just half ($25,000) you can get “The Producer’s Experience” in one of select US cities.

  • Buyer and one guest spend one hour in a recording studio with Gene
  • Buyer’s name appears as an “Executive Producer” on The Vault
  • Buyer & Gene listen to tracks and discuss The Vault
  • Photos/autographs (up to four items)
  • Guaranteed low numbered The Vault (first 500 sold)
  • Skype call from Gene

Think about it. You and a friend just need to raise $12,500 each!

Finally there is the basic $2000 “Vault Experience”.  These are all over the world, including two in Toronto (May 2018).

  • Gene hand delivers The Vault
  • Buyer and a guest meet Gene
  • Photos/autographs (up to two items – more “if he has time”)
  • Gene performs an intimate “Songs & Stories” session and Q&A
  • Signed “golden ticket”, exclusive T-shirt, USB stick (with “Are You Ready”), and laminate pass

It pays to read the language of this.  Gene’s “hand delivery” of the box set is really just you going to pick it up from him in one of a few select cities.  I picture it like Santa Claus at the mall.  Stand in line, get your few minutes with the old guy, a picture and your present (Vault).  The only true “hand delivery” is available for $50,000.  It’s also important to think about all the different activities squeezed in to a short period of time for you and all the other buyers. Each buyer is only allotted five minutes with Gene.

If you and 24 (American) friends pitched in $2000 each, you could in theory throw a two hour home party starring Gene Simmons.  That could make for a pretty cool bachelor blowout.  You’d still have to figure out who gets The Vault box set when you’re all done.  Maybe you could share it, with everybody getting it two weeks a year!  It’s your money, it’s entirely up to you.

Is it worth it?  I am sure these experiences will be sold out.  What if you can’t make it out to one of the Vault Experience locations?  In lieu of meeting Gene, you can have it shipped normally.

$2000 is a lot of money to most of us.  We music collectors are not loyal to just one band.  Gene may have released his box set, but other bands are also vying for our dollars.  This Christmas, Max Webster, Bruce Dickinson, the Sex Pistols, Whitesnake and more will have new box sets to sell.  Are we to budget all our money to just Gene this year?

I cannot.  I love Kiss, but not just Kiss.  No other artist I’ve ever loved has asked this much money for unreleased demos.  Yes, let’s put this into perspective.  It’s not the Wu-Tang Clan selling a new million dollar album to some pharma-jackass.  These are unreleased demos — stuff that either was never intended for release, or weren’t good enough for albums.  Incredibly desirable to collectors, but artificially inflating the price to $2000 not only puts them out of reach, but exaggerates what you’ll be getting inside.  To fans and collectors, it might be worth the money.  Play the songs for your buddies and they might wonder why the hell they were worth $2000.

At the end of the day, I just want the music.  An official, physical copy of the music.  At $13.33 per song, Gene is asking way too much for unreleased demos and a bunch of knick-knacks I wouldn’t buy otherwise.  I can’t pay that much, even for unreleased Kiss.

 

REVIEW: Mr. Big – Defying Gravity (2017 deluxe edition)

MR. BIG – Defying Gravity (2017 Frontiers CD/DVD edition)

I can still remember, very clearly, my thoughts about “To Be With You” when it finally became a hit in 1992.

“It’s a deserved hit,” I thought, “But that’s the end of Mr. Big having any chance of being seen as a serious band by the general public.”

Serious indeed.  Eric Martin had a previous career as a blue-eyed soul singer.  Paul Gilbert was in shred band Racer X with future Judas Priest drummer Scott Travis.  Pat Torpey was a well-known drummer for appearing on several shred rock albums, like Impelliteri.  And Billy Sheehan, of course, is generally listed as one of the top bassists of all time, with a period at the end.  These guys were not slouches.  But they did form a commercial rock band, and suffered the consequences that most commercial rock bands did in the 1990s.  They faded to obscurity.  Everywhere but Japan, where they continued to thrive as rock heroes.

It’s gratifying that 25 years later in 2017, Mr. Big have an album out that’s as good as any of their first four.  They even reunited with their original producer Kevin Elson.  But it’s all not peaches and cream.  Pat Torpey suffered a setback in 2014 when he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease.

Undaunted, Torpey still worked with his loyal bandmates on Defying Gravity.  Just as before, he participated in shaping the songs, even though he was unable to play on them.  Ace Frehley’s drummer Matt Starr* has taken over live and recording duties, while Torpey wrote and produced the drum parts.  In the accompanying DVD, it’s very gratifying to see the band adapt seamlessly to this new reality.  They even have fun with it in the music videos, as Starr and Torpey play together and switch instruments.  Check out the lead single and title track for a great example of making it work.

Speaking of the lead single/video…holy shit, what a hook! Gilbert’s tricky and exotic timing and note choices are somehow bent and twisted into a pop song! It’s that schooled approach that makes certain Mr. Big songs completely unlike whatever is on the radio, but just as catchy.

All the songs have spark, and the solo work is untouchable.  Bluesy and funky hard rock is the basis of “Open Your Eyes”.  The second single (“Everybody Needs a Little Trouble”) stomps out a heavy blues rock beat.  On to “Damn I’m In Love Again”, Mr. Big take a drive into the country.  “Nothing Bad ‘Bout Feelin’ Good” is a hybrid, using the acoustics in a heavier way.  There are plenty more hit-quality highlights:  “Forever & Back”, and “She’s All Coming Back to Me Now”.  For the fans:  “Nothing At All”, the heavy rockin’ “1992” (a brilliant look back at the glory days), and “Be Kind” which is just a jaw dropping example of what these guys can do with just their voices, instruments and a song!

For a deeper understanding of this album, check out the deluxe edition with bonus DVD.**  Not only will you get all the music videos, but also behind the scenes segments on set, and the EPK (“electronic press kit”).  Finally there is a track by track analysis of every song featuring each member, and more behind the scenes footage.  This is where you’ll find the most insight.  Influences abound from the expected to the  unexpected.  From doo-wop to Christina Aguilera?  Why not.  The one with the beat cribbed from Aguilera is actually one of the heaviest and solo-dense tracks (“Mean to Me”).

Defying Gravity isn’t really a surprise, because Mr. Big have put out plenty of good albums over the recent years.  Perhaps it’s a bit more inspired.  It certainly has potential to be on a few “top ten of 2017” lists this year.

4/5 stars

* Matt Starr may in fact be a Klingon.  In the Original Series, Klingons looked much like humans, without their trademark head ridges.  What gives away Starr’s possible Klingon status is his dead ringer of a Klingon moustache and beard.

Matt Starr is the one with the drum head.

** I know what you’re thinkin’. “LeBrain, why didn’t you buy the Japanese edition with a bonus track?” This time out the only bonus track is a radio edit of “Defying Gravity” which, cost considered, I can live without.